How To Survive A Portfolio Review

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Over the last four years, I have been shooting non-stop in order to learn the technicalities of my craft, to train my eye and my creativity, to create work for clients or for my personal projects, and to update my portfolio. All along, without even realizing it, everything that I was doing was bringing me to this past weekend when, for the first time in my photography career, I showed my portfolio to some of the major publications in the UK during PhotoMeet. It was intimidating, it felt like an emotional rollercoaster, but it was one of the most rewarding things that I have done since becoming a photographer.

Having your work reviewed is no easy feat. It doesn't matter if you are showing it to family, friends, peers or potential clients. You feel vulnerable, exposed, judged, and your self-confidence and the confidence in your own work is put to the test.

Imagine what it felt like when I attended PhotoMeet and walked into a room full of reviewers knowing that, for the following two days, eight of them would get to give me their feedback. It was like speed-dating for photographers. I felt like I was having eight job interviews one after the other with almost no time to breath and decompress. But I survived, and I owe it to how well I prepared for that weekend, not only mentally, but also by seeking advice and doing a lot of research.

Here is a list of the things that I did to prepare for my portfolio reviews:

Before the reviews

  • I made sure my portfolios were ready to be shown. You should always show the very best of your work, even if that means that you are only able to show 10 images. Everyone I asked and everywhere I researched suggested in between 25 to 30 images but, if you don't have that many, only show the very best of what you have. Also, most of the times we are our worst critics, and we tend to select images that we are attached to rather than the very best ones. If you can afford it, hire a photography consultant to do the selection for you. If you can't, ask peers, friends or even relatives to help you select them.

  • I prepared different portfolios tailored for different types of publications. If you are a food and travel photographer but you also shoot fitness, you don't want to show your fitness work to a travel industry publication. You should have two separate portfolios for this. In my case, I prepared three: one for fashion, one for portraiture and one for my personal projects, which fall more on the documentary side.

  • I updated my website, my social media and my print portfolio. Once you have the selection of the very best of your images, update all your communication channels. You want to show a coherent image of your brand.

  • I updated my promo material. After updating my portfolio and my communication channels, I printed new promos using the new images that I was going to show the reviewers. After each review, you want to leave something behind so they can remember you and hopefully visit your website and/or social media when they are back in the office.

  • I researched each and every one of the reviewers that I was going to see. Find out what their role is, what they look like so that you don't confuse them with someone else, what sort of photography they like (usually looking at the latest issues of their publication is enough) and what was published in their latest issue (good conversation starter and shows that you did your research).

  • I prepared a set of questions to ask them. Reviews are short, and in events like this one, they tend to last 20 minutes maximum. So you have to use this time wisely. Let them do the talk and ask you questions, but also have a clear goal of what you want to get out of the review so that they can give you good advice. In my case, I wanted to know if my portfolio was ready to be commissioned for editorial work (both in fashion and in portraiture) and what type of photography were their respective publications looking for.

During the reviews

  • I arrived on time. This seems like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised.

  • I was courteous and friendly. Always be polite, hopefully not only with them but with everyone you meet.

  • I respected the time allocated for my review. Time flies and twenty minutes can feel like ten seconds. When your time is up, leave. It's disrespectful to them to take more time than they have given you, but also to the person coming after you because you are stealing minutes from their allocated time.

  • I established what I wanted from the review from the beginning. The reviewer needs to know what is it that you want to get out of the review so that they can give you productive feedback. Have a clear goal and a clear vision of where you want to be as a photographer.

  • I let them do the talking. Let the photos speak for themselves and wait for the reviewer to ask you questions before you speak. Reviewers love photography, you should let them enjoy that.

  • I was openminded when I heard the feedback. You may or may not like the feedback that you are getting, but you should keep an open mind and accept the feedback gratefully. They are the experts on their publications and the type of photography that they are looking for, and you are there to grow as a photographer and to learn what you have to do to be hired by them. Some of the feedback might be contradictory, but that is only because everyone looks for something different and what works for one publication doesn't work for another. Don't react negatively if you don't like what you hear. If you want to make it as a photographer, you have to grow a thicker skin and be ready to take negative feedback and rejection. It's part of being a creative.

  • I took notes. Write down everything that they tell you. Even if it sounds silly or redundant. When you get home, leave the notebook aside for a day or two and then go back to it and read it calmly. Take the advice that you consider objective and that you think it's helpful. In the end, you decide what to do with the information that you are given.

  • I was thankful when the review finished. When your time is up, thank them for their time and for all the feedback. And don't forget to leave a promo or a business card behind.

After the reviews

  • I sent every reviewer a thank you note. Use the communication channel that they have told you works best for them.

  • I put into practice everything that they advised me to do. This is the least you can do to make the experience worthwhile.

Will I do it again? Absolutely! The feedback that I got was priceless, even though next time I will make sure to choose less and more targeted reviewers. Overall, it was an intense experience and one of the hardest things that I've done. But, like they say, comfort is the enemy of progress, and if I want to achieve the goals that I have set for myself I must strive to live outside of my comfort zone.

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A Guide For Perfecting Your Photography

A free guide for perfecting your photography

On a previous post, I mentioned that I had been invited to talk during an event for bloggers called "Breakthrough in Blogging", organised by the people of the Creative Industry Hub. For the purposes of that talk, I put together a short guide with composition tips and tricks to help anyone interested in photography to take better photos. It has been so well received that I have decided to make it public for anyone to download for free. Just click on this link to get your own copy and start taking better photos!

The "Breakthrough in Blogging" event took place at The CoClub, a fantastic co-working space in West London. Almost a 150 bloggers from different disciplines (fashion, travel, food, beauty) came to listen to a line-up of great speakers of the likes of Paul Goldsmith from Wearisma, Katia Bololia from Daisy London, Ulrich Boulon from Burberry, Victoria Reddington from FP Engage, Caroline Towers from The Content Edit, and Philip Gamble from Found.

Apart from the talks, the attendees had the opportunity to network, and also speak in person to some of the sponsors of the event: Alexandra Ursan from Kites and Bites, Funmi Deri from Funlayo Deri, among others.

Creative freelancing can be a very lonely path. But If you are a creative working in the UK, the good news is that the guys at the Creative Industry Hub organize some of the biggest networking events in the country. Their next event called "Breakthrough In Fashion" will take place on October 26th, 2017. You can't miss it!

All the photos, except for the guide's cover, by Luca Dominique Marchesi and Maria Teresa Fiatamone.

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Learn The Rules Then Break Them

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The idea of rules to regulate art goes against the notion of creativity, but in order to explore and express your creativity, you have to understand at least the rules of the medium that you are working in. Once you understand those rules you can and should break them, and only then will you be able to fully unleash your creative self. If artistic growth is about breaking the rules but you haven't learned any rules in the first place, can you even say that you are breaking them?

A couple of posts ago I spoke about the importance of knowing what the subject of your photo is. Only then will you be able to apply the rules of composition to your images to improve how you present your subjects. On September 2, I will be giving a talk on "Perfecting Your Photography" to a group of bloggers during the "Breakthrough in Blogging" event organized by the guys over at the Creative Industry Hub. Join me and learn basic photography composition guidelines and start taking better photos!

If you live outside London and are not able to make it to the event, don't despair. Stay tuned for future blog posts where I will be talking about all these concepts.

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